Why has Kelly Clarkson’s song, Piece by Piece, and her emotional appearance on American Idol, resonated with so many? To start with, people love real people! Take a song delving into the void of a daddyless daughter who witnessed multiple divorces—and couple that with Kelly breaking down while singing—and you have the hearts of a whole nation open wide.
In both or her songs, Piece By Piece and Because Of You, Kelly touches upon a profound challenge many faces: growing up with an absent father and in a home of divorce. According to the US Department of Census, 43% of US children live without their father physically present. And this does not include the emotionally absent father, which has been shown to have an identical impact. In addition, 50% of American children will witness the breakup of a parent’s marriage. Close to half of those will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage.
While the statistics reflect a significantly greater prevalence of absent fathers, it’s important to note that 8% of households have children being raised with a physically absent mother (emotional absence being harder to measure). The purpose of this article is not to point the finger at men (or divorced parents). Actually, the message here is not to judge anyone. That never helps. Nonetheless, the truth is, when either of our parents are absent, or when they divorce, this leaves a profound lack. The extensive and disturbing statistics reveal unfortunate consequences due to this lack. That being said, I am not here to depress but rather inspire hope—because what we do with our lack makes all the difference for our future happiness and relationship success.
Here are some recommendations to take care of the wounds from parental absence and/or divorce:
Step 1: BELIEVE IN YOUR POWER TO HEAL
Only when we grasp the incredible capacity we have for growing and transforming, healing and forgiving, can we truly make the most of our lives. We create our reality, regardless of what happens to us on the outside. It’s a radical level of power and responsibility over one’s life, but it works. No matter the trauma we experience, we possess an unshakeable wholeness within.
Step 2: SEEK HELP
We can’t go it alone. Not if we really want to reach our true potential. Assistance from a healing professional is not a sign of weakness. Quite the opposite, letting someone in for the sake of empowering our highest self speaks volumes about our desire, our willingness to take responsibility for our lives and for our courage to be vulnerable.
Step 3: BECOME SELF AWARE
When we understand the emotional impact, and behavioral tendencies, from having an absent parent or living in a divorced home, we can start to choose proactively how to respond to the pain we experience and respond with greater self-love, control, and wisdom. Otherwise, we live reactively, shooting in the dark by behaving unconsciously, not really knowing what hole we are trying to fill.
For example, most children of an absent parent and/or divorce struggle with two common issues: Fear of abandonment, and feeling unworthy of love. These deep wounds tend to bleed into relationships in four harmful ways:
- People Pleasing - settling for less out of fear of rejection
- Needy for love - a desperate latching on to any attention to cover a fear of being alone
- Fixing our partner - maybe we could get the love we need if we can fix his/her problems
- Emotionally unavailable - never letting people in, hard to commit, afraid to be vulnerable
By identifying our own behavioral traits, this is a beginning of transforming them. We cannot change what we cannot see. We also minimize the risk of repeating the cycle.
Step 4: DON’T LOOK EXTERNALLY TO FILL THE VOID
We need to have a good relationship with ourselves to be whole. As hard and counterintuitive as it may be, we must restrict the urge to have a romantic partner fill our lack. It’s a paradox. The more we work on being good with us, the greater are our chances of attracting what we are really looking for. We are people who need people. But it’s about timing and priority. We must put our relationship with our true self first. Only then are we truly prepared to attract a soulmate, someone with whom we experience genuine love and belonging—that lasts!
Step 5: CHOOSE WISELY
Be selective with who you date, let in and especially marry. Realize your worth and guard your inner Light. Stay away from those who show signs of caring only for the self alone, not a family player. Be cautious about taking morsels of attention to assuage your fear of being alone. Break the chain and select someone who appears to be capable and have balance, who is open to growing and becoming a better person. You are worth it.
Step 6: FORGIVE, LET GO AND TRUST
Blame is a heavy first stone on our backs, upon which those larger stones of anger, fear guilt, and shame build. Blaming our parents, and especially blaming ourselves, keeps us stuck and limits our capacity to enjoy the blessings we are meant to receive. We often cannot see the big picture in life, it can be hard to make sense of our losses and hardships. But those who trust the process of life, and learn to embrace the challenges as opportunities to grow stronger, wiser and more capable of love, tend to rise higher than those who can’t let go and continue to blame. It’s not easy to forgive and be compassionate with ourselves. Yet when we focus on the blessings that we have gained through the pain, and the Light revealed from the darkness, we stop wishing for things to be different and appreciate who we are and all that we are given.
What Will Be Our Legacy: A Note to Parents
Remember the feeling when the twin towers came down? Or have you ever heard some scary news, or come close to losing, or actually lost, someone to an illness. Perhaps you have feared you would lose a marriage or time with your children? These times can hit us with a wave of love and perspective, how clearly we see what really matters. Times of crisis can also feel like we've been hit with a frying pan - a wake up call if you will. Our human nature can easily keep us stuck in physicality, in the worries and day to day life. Many adults fail to realize how in the bigger picture, it's the people and our relationships that matter the most. When it comes to being a parent, especially for fathers, many simply fail to grasp how important their role is and the profound difference they make in their children's lives. On so many levels.
I often hear wisdom from those late in their years wishing they would have been more present with their children when they were younger. Everyone is doing their best; we all have wounds to heal and obstacles from complex and often painful family dynamics. Most absent fathers (or mothers) were raised in a home with an absent father themselves, or been in some kind of dysfunctional or broken home. But it's never too late to break the cycle. When we awaken the desire, we are wired to grow and do better - especially with help. So rather than waiting for a crisis to teach us what really matters, or when it's late in the game, let’s ask ourselves: “How present am I with my children?” “Am I who I really want to be for my kids.” “Am I taking care of myself, and growing, so I can be the best parent I can be?” “What kind of legacy do I want to leave?”